Saturday, August 27, 2005

Books: The Dwelling // Susie Moloney

Genre: Haunted house
Published: Feb. 18, 2003
By the same author: Bastion Falls, A Dry Spell
Verdict: &&&&

From above, there's the thud of something falling over in the attic. Then, the sound of something being dragged across the floor. Everyone in Susie Moloney's The Dwelling hears this eventually, takes note of it and goes about his or her business. That's one thing I really like about this haunted house tale – the idea that people have the ability to ignore just about anything, no matter how horrible, in order to carry on with life. Even if Moloney's framing of the novel – three families move in and out while the life of realtor Glenn Darnley disintegrates in interludes between them – is an idea that has been done before (see Anne Rivers Siddons' brilliant The House Next Door), it serves her well. Her greatest strength is arguably characterization, and here she has a field day with a large cast of troubled souls: first, a young couple whose marriage is strained by ambition and intimacy issues; then, a recent divorcee and her awkward child, both struggling just to get through any given day; finally, a novelist with writer's block and a growing problem with alcohol; and the realtor, Glenn, whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to face a personal crisis alone. The haunting manifestations, such as the sound of the bathtub filling upstairs or faint music coming from the small room with the Murphy bed under the stairwell, mostly tend toward light chills, and that works just fine, even if it leaves this more a character study than a frightfest. Some have been critical of the two-page laundry list at the end explaining the source of the various manifestations, and I'll agree to that. The hints dropped along the way really are enough, and the list dulls the impact of a well-executed climax that happens just before. Nevertheless, Moloney is a talent who deserves a broader audience, and this Dwelling is a fine place to pay her a visit.

// Linkage //
Moloney's website

Saturday, August 20, 2005

DVD: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Genre: Paranoia thriller
Director: Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs)
Roots: Remake of a 1962 film adapted from a 1959 novel
Verdict: &&&1/2

Mind control, implants, conspiracy, paranoia, and Denzel Washington biting a chunk out of someone's back – it's a shame I didn't see this in the theater. I'll admit up front that I never saw the original, and I never got a real feel for what this movie was about before seeing it. As Bennett Marco, Washington is a Persian Gulf War veteran who has memories of a heroic act by another soldier in his unit, Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), who becomes a suprise candidate for vice president. Trouble is, the memories feel somehow wrong, as if, perhaps, he didn't really experience those things. The paranoia escalates as Marco finds a mysterious object underneath his skin and confronts Shaw about their shared memories. Already feeling empty as a pawn of his power-hungry, corrupt politician mother, portrayed by a scenery-devouring Meryl Streep, who maneuvered her reluctant son onto the ticket's number two spot, Shaw becomes mired in self-doubt as he mugs for the cameras and spouts rhetoric. Add to the mix a diabolical corporation aspiring to control the presidency, and you have the fixings for a frighteningly believable cautionary tale. Bonus points for the jolting human experimentation scenes and the dead-on skewering of today's empty-headed politics. // DVD Extras // Best are the extended interviews, one by Al Franken, of Streep as Congresswoman Eleanor Shaw.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Movies: The Skeleton Key

Genre: Haunted house horror
Director: Iain Softley (K-PAX, The Wings of the Dove, Hackers)
Verdict: &&1/2

The Skeleton Key has much in common with horror movies of the last few years – mysterious noises in the attic, dark secrets from the past, a female protagonist (Caroline, played by Kate Hudson) and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Ring, The Ring Two, Scream 3). With so many horror remakes coming along of late, it's clear the genre is lacking original ideas. Although it's basically a haunted house tale, The Skeleton Key finds a compelling hook by setting the story in a spooky old New Orleans plantation mansion and channeling the local belief in hoodoo – healing, curses, spells and the like. Caroline takes up residence in the imposing old house with Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) and her husband, Ben (John Hurt), who has suffered a stroke, leaving him paralyzed and mute. Caroline is told only that Ben had his stroke while in the attic, and, after hearing rattling noises, she's soon poking around up there. Caroline begins to believe Ben is trying to tell her something, and Hurt admirably does all he can to convey fright through silent straining. Caroline becomes determined to get Ben out of the house and becomes involved in something of a hoodoo chess match. The movie works best when tapping the fervent regional belief in hoodoo, its ties to the Old South and the idea that it works if you believe. That alone makes this movie worth at least a rental when the DVD arrives. But, despite an interesting twist at the end, the climactic scene lacks the nail-biting heft of what came before, leaving the movie's spell a few rabbit's feet short of big-screen magic.

// Linkage //
Official movie site

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Music: Hopes and Fears // Keane

•• Updated 4.16.06 ••
Genre: Melodic Britpop
Verdict: &&&&

This album is a real grower, with latter-half songs like "Sunshine" and "Untitled 1" emerging as favorites over time. The band's keen sense of melody is readily apparent, but there are many layers of songcraft in cuts like "Untitled 1" that burrow into your head only with repeated listenings. On the surface, comparisons can be drawn to Coldplay and even the Beatles, but the sound is wholly Keane's own. "Somewhere Only We Know" was the most heart-tugging ballad of 2005, and subsequent single "Everybody's Changing" is one of the more immediately hummable songs. Hopes and Fears is a soothing chill-out soundtrack for a lazy weekend, and, on second thought, I've just bumped it up to four medals.

// Linkage //
Band website